Looks aren’t everything… right?

Ever notice how good looking people tend to become better dancers faster? Or maybe it’s that better dancers are just better looking?

Could be just me, but it seems like young, attractive people move up the ranks pretty quickly – more quickly than others, sometimes more quickly than perhaps they should. Sure, there happen to be a lot of young, attractive dancers with a lot of talent, but it still raises some questions about how someone gets better and at what rate.

One could argue that attractive people get better faster because more people ask them to dance. Or maybe they have more confidence and thus are willing to take risks and try new things and become more expressive. Maybe they gain more confidence as they improve, and their confidence is what makes them seem more attractive. Or maybe as they get better they adopt the fashion trends and dress themselves better. Or maybe they just look better or our eyes are drawn to watching them simply because they are more attractive.

The flip side is that people who are better dancers may just be more attractive. A study was done demonstrating just that, and how dancing can be used as a demonstration of genetic fitness, helping us to choose a mate. So maybe the better you are, the more attractive you seem. The pros all seem to be pretty good looking, but maybe we just think that because of their dancing. Would the pros be as attractive if it weren’t for the way they can move?

In competition, looks can certainly play a factor: how you dress, how you present yourself, your attitude, your level of confidence – all of which can also make you more or less attractive. Studies have shown that the part of the brain that ultimately makes decisions is the primitive brain, the part that makes decisions based on primal needs related to survival. We know that while judging is based on certain criteria, there is also a high degree of intuition and emotion that goes into deciding what’s good dancing and what’s not. So despite our rational thoughts about technique and artistry, are judges letting their primal interests sway their judgment? Are judges ultimately making decisions based on their primal desire to procreate? The pretty ones get chosen because we would like to mate with them? What about judges who are the same sex as those they are judging? Are they also judging based on primal instincts, but making decisions not out of a desire to procreate but based on a fear of competition? The pretty ones are competition for mates, so they should be punished/eliminated? And if both forces are at work, shouldn’t they balance out so that attractive people do no better or worse than less attractive people?

Thinking about the last competition I went to, it’s probably just an illusion. If physical attractiveness were objectively measured, there’s probably just as many unattractive people in any division as attractive ones. Still, in a world as social as that of the social dances, attractiveness is likely to play as strong a role as it does in the rest of society. The “halo effect” is a cognitive bias whereby the perception of some positive quality (like attractiveness) gives rise to the perception of similar positive qualities. In this case, people who are attractive may be perceived to be “better” or more qualified than they actually are. Is this same principle being applied to dance? To what extent? What can or should be done about it, or is this just part of the world we live and dance in?


  1. I would argue that dancing requires some level of fitness. Fit people are considered more attractive than unfit people – generally speaking. The better dancers are more fit and therefore more attractive than the weaker dancers. Attractiveness certainly plays a role at the higher levels because showmanship is just as important (if not more important) than technique and obviously we would rather look at attractive couples than unattractive couples. I would expect that judges would be trained to be impartial to attractiveness, but is it difficult to fault them if they occasionally choose the more attractive dancer? The bias is only human.

  2. I agree with BacMan. Most people would be naturally drawn to look at something young and pretty and whatever is the current "fad" for "socially acceptable looks" and excuse any mistake for inexperience rather than inability. I don't find myself seeking out the fat ole broad except to wonder "what is she doing out there making a fool of herself." Since I happen to think I fit the latter category, I think the judges do not see me unless I'm in a spotlight situation. However, I KNOW I can execute a more perfect pirouette than that 18-year-old-hottie. One would hope that the judging would keep in mind that most of those youngsters were TAUGHT by the oldsters and keep an eye out for such fantastic fetes, but I feel you can't compete with nature. So, it's not just at the champ/pro-level you find "attractive youngsters" … it's at all levels.

  3. Thanks for the comments! BacMan and Maria, you both make interesting points about our natural inclinations. BacMan asked if we can fault judges for occasionally choosing the more attractive dancer. I agree that it happens, and I would agree that it's natural to do so, but that doesn't mean it *should* happen. It's not a beauty contest – it's a dance contest, and that's what people should be judged on. Maria, while people may be drawn to the fresh young thing on the floor, I wonder how many look down upon the less attractive. Personally, I find myself cheering on the "fat ol' broad" as you put it, especially if she knows how to shake what her mama gave her ;)And Natalie, you're adorable and you know it. Ride the wave and enjoy it!

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